EESC Vice-President, Jacek Krawczyk, urged global players to reach a deal on the EU Emissions Trading System. "Failing to do so would be irresponsible", he said.
The European Union Emissions Trading Scheme, which covers power stations and factories, has recently been extended to the aviation sector. The move prompted backlash from the US, China, India and others arguing that the EU had no right to regulate flights operated outside European skies.
The main bone of contention is the EU levy on airlines, which is calculated based on CO2 emissions for an entire flight, not just in Europe, which the opponents say infringes on sovereignty.
Mr Krawczyk was speaking at the third Transatlantic Aviation Issues Conference held on 26-28 June in Brussels.
"Negotiations have to start without further delay", he said. Mr Krawczyk backed the European Commission's move to entrust the International Civil Aviation Organization with brokering a global deal on the reduction of CO2 emissions.
According to the European Commission, by 2020 global aviation emissions are likely to be 70% higher than in 2005.
"Citizens will grow more and more concerned about the future of the environment and we need to adapt to it", Mr Krawczyk said at the conference.
In 2009 Krawczyk drafted a well-received opinion on transatlantic relations in aviation.
Responding to American queries about funding of the European aviation business, Mr Krawczyk said that "unlike the US, there is a lot of public money involved in the aviation sector in Europe".
Europe has over 460 airports, of which almost 80% are in public hands. "Many of them are losing money", said Mr Krawczyk.
Referring to the ongoing revision of EU guidelines on airport financing and aid to start-up airlines, he called for "a better use of the huge amount of money that is currently spent in an inefficient and uncoordinated way".
Mr Krawczyk said that the mushrooming of airports in overlapping catchment areas can herald problems in the future. Launched with the use of public money and often dependent on the presence of extremely mobile low-cost carriers, some of these airports may fail to break even.
Turning to competition between flag carriers and low-cost airlines Mr Krawczyk insisted on the need for creation of "an equal level playing field".
Over the last two decades, liberalisation of air traffic in Europe has spawned the development of low-cost airlines, which today controls almost half of Europe's market.
Advocating fair competition between airlines and between airports, Mr Krawczyk asked the European Commission to enhance the monitoring of the market for state aid to aviation in Europe and to base its decisions more on the "private investor principle". This principle holds that public funding is to be considered state aid if an investor would not make a similar investment based on the expected financial return.
Not losing sight of citizens and passengers
Mr Krawczyk said at the conference that the Single European Sky II (SES II) package, which aims to create a better performing and more sustainable aviation in Europe, should never lose sight of its main beneficiary: passengers.
He called for "a better integration of the common EU aviation market", which would bring tangible benefits to citizens. As such, it would finally meet goals set for the internal market 20 years ago.
In his specific comments on SES II, Mr Krawczyk said that SESAR – a technological pillar of the package – would not "get off the ground without public money".
Significant support from public authorities and the European Investment Bank and other financial institutions were cited as potential sources of funding.
SESAR, which entails synchronised deployment of airborne and ground infrastructure upgrades, is likely to enable a threefold rise in air traffic, reduce its carbon footprint, improve safety and lower flying costs.